Balancing Your Chi- An Experiment in Weight, Lego Style

Liam’s current obsession in Lego Chima.  Over the past few weeks, I have become well-versed in the adventures of Laval and Cragger.  I can name all the tribes.  I understand that the Chi, the powerful element that fuels the land of Chima, must be equally balanced among all the tribes or there will be catastrophic consequences (earthquakes, floods, Donald Trump will become president).

The kids were off from school for Labor Day this past weekend, which meant we had a lot of time to fill.  I turned to another trusty book of science experiments to find an activity to pass some of the morning.  An experiment in balancing weight, courtesy of Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments by Mike Adamick seemed like a perfect opportunity to capitalize on this love of Chima.

Dad’s Books of Awesome Science Experiments

The experiment is very easy.  It requires a pencil, a ruler, tape, and a few items of equal weight to balance.  In Adamick’s version, he used pennies.  We used Lego pieces that are supposed to be Chi.

The first step is to tape the ruler down to keep it from moving.  Next, balance the ruler on top of the pencil so that it is perpendicular.  It will take a few attempts to find the exact spot.

Then begin adding weight to each side.  You can ask a thinking question such as “I placed a piece of Chi on the number 2 on this side of the ruler.  What number would I need to place a piece on the other side to create balance?”

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Once you have the basic experiment done, you can begin to play with other options.  How many pennies would equal the weight of a piece of Chi?  Would a paint stir stick provide the same results as the ruler?  Why is it more difficult to do the experiment with a popsicle stick than a ruler?

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I was REALLY surprised at how long the boys played with this one.  I thought after they balanced it once, the experiment would be old news.  But they kept doing it over and over.  Liam created one side of the ruler for the lion tribe, and another side for the crocodiles, and when it would get out of balance would exclaim “The lions need more Chi! The crocs have too much!”

Think of what your little one is into, and see if you can adapt this activity to interest them.  Happy experimenting!

 

Reviving Ideas for the Second Child

Oh, the plight of the second child.  You never get to do anything first.

As much as parents try to treat siblings equally, sometimes the second child can feel like his interests are second fiddle.  If you are like me, you find it is easiest to focus on an activity the whole family can enjoy.  But that means the littlest one might miss out on some of the fun.  In our mind, we have already done the craft or activity, since we completed it with the older sibling.  We forget to complete it a second time around once the younger sibling is of age.

My oldest son, Liam, had a fascination with the movie Cars when he was around three or four years old.  We had a collection of the Cars gang- multiple ones actually, because if we lost Lightning McQueen there would be no rest in our house until we found him.  But Cars gave way to Ninja Turtles, and super heroes, and Legos.  I pretty much forgot all about Lightning and Mater.  Until this past summer.

We stayed at a VRBO in Wyoming on a vacation.  We decided to have a family movie night, and came across a dvd of Cars.  We popped it in and a new fan was born- Kellen.  He may have watched the movie before, but he was too young to remember it.  The film was all new for him.  Once again, it was Lightning McQueen mania at our house.  After assembling another collection of the gang, we began to dream up ways to put cars into all of our activities.  I was reminded of a few activities I did with Liam, that could be reborn with a Cars twist.

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I cut out some simple shapes, and asked Kellen to make pictures with them.  Sure enough, he made cars.  I did this activity with Liam a couple of years ago.  Liam made pictures of Ninja Turtles brandishing swords.  Kellen makes cars racing along a track.  The pictures look simple, but the stories are elaborate.  You may not realize it, but the small yellow car on the right of the top picture won the race by spinning around and driving backwards! Get ready to hear some tall tales when you start this craft.

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Liam and I used to cut pieces of paper to make paths to connect various superhero lairs.  Kellen used the same idea to make long racing tracks.  I simply cut some pieces and gave him a roll of scotch tape.

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He even got some writing practice in by making start/finish line signs.

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Revive those old ideas and give them a new twist.  Instead of playing second fiddle, your youngest will feel like first chair.

The Egg and Nothing But the Egg- An Experiment in Slippery Fun

A few months ago, I purchased a book titled Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley.

tinkerlab

I like to have a few of these type of books around for the days when we need something to do and I’m out of ideas.  Last week, Kellen and I were having such an afternoon.  Kellen is a big fan of experiments, so I quickly located an easy experiment for us to complete from the Tinkerlab book called the “Naked Egg” experiment.

The photos and description in the book did not do the experiment justice.  Perhaps because they used yellow food coloring, the egg, to me, simply looked like a hardboiled egg.  The text described playing with a slippery egg, and I again thought “how much fun is playing with a hardboiled egg?”  But we had all the ingredients, so I thought we’d give it a try.

The first step was to gently place an egg into a jar or container.

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Step two was to pour enough vinegar to completely cover the egg.  I didn’t tell Kellen it was vinegar.  Before pouring, I asked Kellen what he thought we were going to pour on the egg, and he said water.  I replied that it looked like water, but it wasn’t, and asked him how he might determine it was something else.  He smelled it and replied “it’s vinegar!”  This is a simple experiment, but can become more complex by asking questions that get your little one thinking.

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We added some liquid watercolor to the vinegar.  You can also use food coloring. At this point, I asked Kellen what he thought was going to happen as we let the egg soak over night.  He replied “it’s going to turn red.”

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Kellen observed that the egg was covered with bubbles.

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After a few minutes, a ring of foam started to appear on the surface of the vinegar.

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We left the egg over night, swishing it around every few hours to ensure the entire egg spent some time in the vinegar.

The next day, we took the egg out of the jar, and placed it in a glass dish to play with.  We were surprised to learn the shell had completely disappeared- a naked egg!  The shell is calcium carbonate and dissolves as a base when mixed with an acid, vinegar.  That’s where all the bubbles came from! Kellen loved the color and texture, and was thrilled to learn the egg could be GENTLY bounced.

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The egg felt VERY rubbery.  We couldn’t figure out if it was solidified only on the outside, or all the way through the egg.  We took the egg outside and held it up to the sun.  We also shined a flashlight underneath it.

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We soon learned the egg was NOT solid all the way through.  Liam dropped the egg a little less gently, and the egg burst. Good thing we had that dish underneath it.

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The outside of the egg solidified into a membrane similar to the texture of a deflated balloon.  Inside the egg was just the same as if you cracked a raw egg.

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The book advised to try the experiment again with different solutions- corn syrup, salt water, etc.  We can’t wait to give it another go!

Let the Paint Fly- Giving Over to Method not Results

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  If you google something along these lines, you will be met with multitudes of inspirational quotes by everyone from Maya Angelou to Drake.  Yesterday, I received a personal reminder of the power of this phrase.

My friend, Lala, had jury duty and needed a sitter for her four year old son, Alex.  Lala had just done me the awesome favor of watching my cats for an entire month.  How could I say no?  I wouldn’t anyway because I adore her son.

Alex is one of those children who is so full of energy and ideas.  You have to keep your eye on him every second or you’ll find him lining up chairs to climb from the table to the counter and beyond.  I used to joke with his mom that I wouldn’t recognize him if he didn’t have some sort of cut or bruise.  He’s just in a constant state of exploration, with no desire to heed caution.

As a parent, I’m sure this can be exhausting, but as his babysitter, it’s a lot of fun.  I’m always curious to see where his mind is going to go, what things he is going to try.  Yesterday was no exception.

We started off by assembling a track for the Hot Wheels.  The track is the same orange track that has been around for the last twenty years.  It has a little launcher on one end, powered by stretching an interior rubber band.  We placed a car in the launcher, pushed the car back to stretch the band, then hit a button to release the tension and propel the car forward.  I have played with the track countless times with my own boys.  We test all the cars to see which will go the farthest, and then we are usually done.  We might build the track another way to see how that changes things, but it is always cars on the track.

Alex did this.  Then he looked at a Bingo set I had near by, complete with the metal rotating cage and plastic balls.  He said “I want to play with this now.”

Great, let’s play Bingo.  Instead, he took a ball out of the cage and placed it on the car launcher.  Instant gratification- the ball was significantly lighter, and shot across the room.

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“That went really far, Miss Kat.”

Yes, it did.  I began to worry that I might be cleaning up a lot of little balls off the floor, but after a few more launches, he grew tired of it.  Tried that, saw what happened, done.

We moved on to painting.  If there is one thing I’m sort of known for when it comes to kids, it’s that I’m not afraid to let them get messy.

I gave Alex a piece of poster board, a plastic pallet with around ten paint colors, a few containers of glitter, and a cup full of various sized brushes.

I have painted with a lot of children.  But Alex did things I have never seen a child do.  I have had children dip all kinds of things besides paint brushes into their pallets- fingers, puff balls, leaves, rocks, cars, candles, pencils.  But I have never had a child ask this question:

“Can I turn it over?”

I thought about it.  The mom in me thought oh, that’s going to be a mess.  The teacher in me thought YES!  The teacher won out.

Alex first tipped it sideways, and giggled.

“It’s dripping!”

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Then he tipped it completely over to see if he could increase the size or intensity of the drips.  We were both fascinated watching the paint stretch and fall onto the board.

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Next he placed the pallet directly on to the canvas, lifting it after a few seconds to see what the result was.

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He then began drumming on the pallet to see how much of the paint he could get out.

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Feeling he had exhausted every possibility with the canvas, he moved on to the paint, running his fingers through the liquid and becoming delighted when it would squish through his hands.  20150806_115953

I asked him if he had ever written in paint, and used a stick to write his name in the liquid.  He quickly wiped the word away and laughed.  It became a game- i would write the name, he would erase it with a sweep of his hand.

Next, he wanted to try the sprinkles.  But it really had nothing to do with the look of the glitter.  He grabbed a glitter bottle in each hand and began to shake, moving his whole body in rhythm.  Every once in awhile he would stop to look at the mounting pile of glitter, but it really seemed to be more about the movement of shaking.

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Last, he took about ten paint brushes in one hand, and began running them over the paint to create lines.

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The painting was a pretty standard piece of kid artwork, if you were simply looking at it and didn’t know the method behind the piece.  I didn’t come away thinking he’s the next Picasso. But I did think if he could hold on to that ability to think in new ways, he’s going to become a heck of a problem solver.

As we get older, experience teaches us to let go of that type of ingenuity.  We focus on the result- a mess that will have to be cleaned, materials that were used, an end product we may or may not be happy with.  But the joy and creativity taken from the method is lost.  Who cares if we have to spend ten minutes cleaning brushes?  So what if we got paint on a shirt?  Maybe the painting is nothing to frame, but wasn’t it fun just to wonder what will happen if I do this?

We can’t do it every day, with every experience.  Yes, we are adults.  We have to keep some kind of functioning order.  Sometimes duty and responsibility win out over creativity.  But that’s not always the case.  Give yourself permission to do something purely for the thrill of it, without thought of how it will pan out.  Let the paint fly!

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Painting the Bathtub Red, We’re Painting the Bathtub Red…

This is one of those ideas that will make you slap your forehead and exclaim “Why didn’t I think of that!”

Don’t worry, I didn’t think of it either.  All credit goes to my friend,  Dale.

I remember her telling me that she used to let her daughter paint in the bathtub.  I don’t know why it took me so long to try it.  It makes perfect sense for containing and cleaning up the mess of painting.

The boys had a case of Phoenix summer fever today- bored with being indoors, needing something new to do.  Dale’s idea popped in my head.

We started with Crayola Washable Kids Paint and a variety of brushes.

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I had Kellen take off his clothes and climb in the tub.  I knew he would want to paint himself as well as the porcelain.  I imagine this could be a great way to tempt a reluctant child to take a bath.

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I gave him a couple of rules- keep the paint out of his hair (he hates getting shampooed) and only paint on the white of the tub.  Other than that, he had free reign.

Liam did not want to get in the tub, but wanted to paint from the outside.  This worked just fine. I thought it was cool that he was painting from a different vantage point than he normally does.

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For clean up, I simply ran a bath and gave Kellen a variety of scrub brushes and sponges.  We did have to run two baths- the first was colored with paint, the second was mostly clear.  After draining the second bath, the tub was clean!  I love that this is two activities in one, and that the child is responsible for his own clean up (even if it is fun).

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The boys were free to try different techniques, go crazy with paint, and not have to worry about a mom demanding “Be careful! Watch where your painting!”

Not the greatest way to create lasting artwork, but it certainly will create a lasting memory.  Paint the bathtub red! And yellow! maybe orange too…..

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Light and Dark- Crafts that Glow

In one short week, the school year will end.  For many kids, that means summer camp.  I teach science and art camps for children during school breaks, so I have been hard at work planning my summer session of Kat Camp.  This year the theme is “Light and Dark.”  I love that this theme can be concrete, like learning about how blocking light produces shadow.  But it can also be abstract, like drawing to music that might be termed light or dark.

I’ve been playing around with different ideas, and thought I would pass on a few, in case you want to explore your own Light and Dark theme at home.

1.  Plastic Cup Suncatchers

I saw this post that produced a gorgeous rainbow suncatcher from melted plastic cups.

http://mylifeinthenuthouse.blogspot.com/2011/06/rainbow-suncatcher.html

While the result is incredible, it is a bit more involved than I can do with a group of young children in a camp.  I decided to modify to a single strand.  If children want to produce more than one stand and put them together as a mobile at home, they would have that option.

I found plastic cups a the dollar store, but they were not the type 6 recycling plastic recommended in the post.  I gave them a shot anyway.

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They did not produce the perfectly rounded bubble as seen in the original post, but I think they look really cool!  I love how the irregular shapes- to me they look like interesting glass.  I also layered the cups to get different colors- putting a blue cup over a green cup to get turquoise.  I felt bad throwing out the bottom of the cups, so instead, I melted those too.  I especially liked when I layered the bottom of two cups- it created a neat bubble effect.

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I attempted punching holes in the cups, but noticed that when these cups melted, the hole got covered.  Instead, I drilled holes after all the cups were melted.

On camp day, the kids will thread the pieces to make their suncatchers.  Easy, beautiful project- great for fine motor skills, and can be a vocabulary booster when you define words like transparent and illuminate.  If you do not like the look of the string, you could opt for fishing line.

 

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2.  Glow lanterns

For camp, we are going to make glow in the dark bouncy balls.  You can find the recipe here:

http://www.growingajeweledrose.com/2013/05/play-recipes-homemade-bounce-balls.html

But I couldn’t wait to try out the glow in the dark paint, so Kellen and I made glow lanterns.

I saw this craft where the artist painted tiny dots of glow in the dark paint on a mason jar to create a starry lantern.

http://frompankawithlove.blogspot.com/2012/01/glowing-jar-project-varazslat-lakasban.html

Another beautiful project, but my four year old is not precise and dedicated enough to paint all those dots just yet.  We opted for another version.

We squirted the glow in the dark paint inside of plastic bottles so that it would run down and stripe the sides.  In my experience, children enjoy squeezing the paint more than just about any other aspect of the project- I think because it is generally something they are not allowed to do.  We also added some glitter paint and regular glitter to the mix.

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We sealed the bottle with cute tape, and then got to shaking up all the contents inside.

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The finished project was super cute, and really glowed!

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3.  Making Rainbows

No lesson on light and dark would be complete without making rainbows.  The class is going to do two experiments to learn how rainbows are made.

http://buggyandbuddy.com/science-for-kids-making-rainbow-reflections/

When I was a kid, I always wanted a prism because I thought they were so beautiful.  I really wanted to give each camper a rainbow maker to take home.  I contacted a friend who is a jewelry maker, and asked if she knew where I could get inexpensive, high quality crystals.  She directed me to a couple of websites for chandelier parts.

http://www.gspncrystals.com/CHANDELIERS/Productlist.aspx?Category=1027

http://www.spectrumhome3.com/spectrumhomeN/Productlist.aspx?Category=1027

I was able to get huge, high quality crystals that make tons of rainbows for about $0.70 each! This one is a bit covered in dust because we were already playing with  it, spinnning it on the ground. I can’t wait to give them to the kids!

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I’ve got more light and dark crafts for my campers, so be on the lookout for part two.  But hopefully these crafts will get you started on your exploration of light and dark.

 

DIY Building Sets- Big Fun, Small Cost

“I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”

Over lunch with a friend, she commented on some activity I did with my children, seemingly astounded by my creativity.  I am going to let you in on a secret- I’m not so much creative as I am cheap.  I appreciated the compliment, but the truth is I just really hate to pay for something that I’m unsure will get used.  We all know what it feels like to spend your hard earned dollars on some sort of toy or gadget, thinking your kids are going to do back flips when they see it, only to have it tossed in the corner after five minutes of play.

I have been looking for a new building set.  My kids are Lego fanatics.  I paid for two sets of Magna-Tiles (an unheard splurge.)  But beyond that, we haven’t had much luck with building toys.  Tinker Toys were quickly forgotten.  Crystal climbers- not much interest.  Qubits- a big snore.  That set with the magnetic balls and rods- well, I just got annoyed with my floors getting covered in marbles.

Here are a few ideas to utilize your kids’ problem solving skills without breaking the bank.

1.  Pipes, pipe fittings, and zip ties- I have been on the lookout for a set of pipes for quite sometime.  If you have gone a children’s museum in recent years, chances are you have played with some sort of pipe building system.  I’ve seen them at the OMSI in Portland in Oregon, where you try to build a water way.  In Mesa, AZ, at the Natural History Museum, you build them to get a ping pong ball into the mouth of a baby pteradactyl.  I looked into buying a set of play pipes from Lakeshore but didn’t want to pay $25 for a small set, when I didn’t now if my kids would like it and/or need multiple sets to build things they really enjoyed.

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C925%2C194&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1430094329461

I found a huge box of white PVC pipes and fittings at a thrift store for $10.  My husband had zip ties in the garage.  We were ready to go!  I gave the kids instructions to build a lawn waterer that had to reach from our pool fence to the grass. I had to assist them a bit, but I was very impressed with their engineering.  At one point, I put a fitting on the a pipe, my four year old looked at it and said “that’s not going to work.”  He was right- I had lined up the pipe with a fitting that was blocked instead of hallow.

 

I can’t wait to see what we build next with these.

2.  Card stock and tape- I perform the most simple volunteering task in the world by cutting out things for Kellen’s preschool class.  The teacher tucks the sheets in his backpack, I cut them out and return them.  I cut out something on neon card stock that left a huge amount of scrap.  I couldn’t stand to throw all that good material away!  I cut it up to save for another day.

This past week, I cut the card stock into squares, and taped them into triangles and cubes.  Liam noticed what I was doing, and started to tape shapes of his own.  I asked if he could build with the shapes.  He started to put them together, but the shapes were flimsy.  I asked him what he could do to accommodate for the flexibility.  He began stacking them to provide support, and taping them together to make them extra sturdy.  Great opportunity to problem solve, and every item was on hand.

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3.  Bottles and boxes- I know this is going to seem like a “duh” moment.  Of course you can build with bottles and boxes.  But I think most of us find it annoying to save those materials that should be in the recycling bin (I know my husband does.)  They are worth saving! Sure, you could buy a set of cardboard blocks for $25-40, but it costs a lot less to use what you have on hand.

http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Cardboard-Blocks/dp/B000A12YBW

My children have gotten VERY into the Wild Kratts games on pbskids.org.  I try to capitolize on their interest by creating activities that incorporate the Wild Kratts but get them off the computer.  One of the games involves a rhino charging and knocking through tree stumps and rocks.  I decided to help them create our own obstacles to charge through.

We stacked empty boxes and plastic bottles to create trees and rocks to charge through.  After each charge, I asked them if they could build the next obstacle higher than the last one.  The activity was a perfect combination of problem solving and physical play.

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Ok, maybe I’m a garbage hoarder.  I’ve been called worse.  But why spend your money on expensive building sets when you can make them at home.  That’s cutting into your wine budget, and nobody wants that.

Birthday Party Ideas That Can Adapt to Meet Your Theme

Birthday parties are out of control! To visit the “back in my day” territory, I remember having one formal birthday party when I was a kid- a slumber party when I was in fifth grade.  The other seventeen years of my childhood, a birthday party was my mom cooking my favorite dinner, my family singing happy birthday and eating cake, and opening a few presents.

As you know, times have changed.  Each birthday is a precious milestone, to be celebrated with its own theme, activities, and designer goodie bag.  You might think this post is going to be a plea for a return to simplicity.  Nope.  I’m right there on the crazy train.  I just put together a “Pandas, Dinosaurs, and Squirt Guns” themed party for my youngest son’s fourth birthday.  I have no room to judge.

Each year, my sons pick a birthday theme, and I scour the internet to find appropriate activities.  A lot of those activities are easily translatable to other themes, but you might not find them unless you are scouring every birthday board on Pinterest.  Here are a few of our favs to make your next birthday theme-tastic.

1.  Banners made with your child’s artwork- I am notoriously cheap.  I will not pay for something I can make.  I also love the idea of getting your child involved in the party preparation.  A great way to do this is to make banners with your child’s artwork.  If your child is not old enough to write or to draw a specific “thing” you can have them paint, and then cut the paintings into the letters of his or her name.

2.  Free visits- My husband’s all time favorite birthday party was from when he turned four years old.  His mother called a Caterpillar dealership, and asked if she could bring the children by to climb on the tractors.  She did a similar idea for her daughter, where they went to a bakery and watched them make bread.  Birthday parties are expensive!  I love the idea of free visits.  For my son’s third birthday, he wanted a fire fighter party.  I called the local fire station and arranged a free tour.  He got to climb in a fire truck, try on the equipment, and squirt the hose.  Doesn’t get much better than that! Use your imagination and make a few phone calls.

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3.  Punch prize boxes- I made these for a Lego theme party, but you could adjust for any theme.  Here is a blog that shows the step by step process.  http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2012/03/cardboard-box-punch-out-party-surprise.html#.VTU5CiFVhBc.  The kids LOVED punching through the box to retrieve their prize.  For the Lego party, I made them look like Legos, and the prize was a Lego mini figure.  But I’ve seen rainbow boxes, boxes that looked like trucks- anything you can think of.  The important part is getting to PUNCH!

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4.  Homemade crayons- This is such a cute idea for goody bags, and is super cheap.  I used broken crayons and melted them in a cheap metal bowl over another pan of water, in the style of a double boiler.  I don’t recommend using your actual double boiler- cleaning the pan is a bit of a pain.  I simply threw away the cheap bowl after I was done.  I poured the melted wax into plastic dino molds I found at the dollar store- I believe they were actually supposed to be sand or playdoh toys.  I have seen these done with heart and butterfly molds.  You could use any mold.  Let the wax cool and pop out of the mold.  I do advise thinking through your set up and planning your molding area before getting started.  I just went for it and had a pretty big mess in my kitchen.

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5.  Scavenger Hunt-  I like the idea of working for your goody bag.  For my son’s second birthday, we did an alphabet scavenger hunt.  You had to find the letters of the alphabet, and each letter had a prize starting with that letter.  You can see B was for beads in the photo below.  Another easy one to adapt for any theme, and takes care of creating a party game as well.

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6.  Seek and Find Game- I made these bottles to look like Lego mini figures, but I have also done this game with cut out pumpkins, and animals.  Simply make a lot of one item, hide them around your party area, and have the kids find them.  Easy, cheap game that the kids really enjoy.

7.  Theme cupcakes- Making a big beautiful fondant cupcake is a very daunting task.  Cupcakes are much easier to adjust to your theme.  I’ve done drum cupcakes, pandas, zombies.  A few simple tricks like pretzel drumsticks and Oreo ears makes for a simple, cute cake that any kid will love.

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Hope you can use these ideas to make your next party a themed success!

Beg, Borrow, and Swap

Remember the 1970’s special Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town?  Sometimes, I could take on the role of Burgermeister Meisterburger.  After tripping over and cleaning up piles of toys that are not being played with, I want to gather them all up, torch them, and put a permanent ban on cars, blocks, and train sets.

Ok, I’m not really that much of a cold-hearted cat.  But it can be frustrating to be in a house full of amazing toys, and have kids who seemed to be bored with all of them.  The worst is when I relent, buy some new gizmo that I’m sure will spark their imaginations, only to have it discarded after a couple of minutes- you know, just long enough so that it is out of the packaging, played with, and can’t be returned.  In true infomercial style, I want to shake my fist and shout “there has to be a better way!”

There is- borrow and swap!

At a play date a year or so ago, my son became fascinated with a toy car that transformed into a dinosaur.  When it came time to leave, he was reluctant to let the car go.  I removed it from his hands and attempted to distract him with putting on his shoes.  To my surprise, the hostess asked him “would you like to borrow the car?”

Such a simple idea, too simple.  Why had I never thought of it?  I guess I assumed loaning and borrowing toys was a bad idea.  The child loaning would not want to give up the toy.  The child borrowing would not want to return it.  The toy could get broken.  We might forget to return it.  It turns out, none of those things were really an issue.

The mother advised that she tries to teach her kids to share (like we all do), and that includes borrowing toys.  Early on in the loaning process, her son had a bit of trepidation with lending toys, but as he saw the items come back to him, the reluctance went away.  It also helped when other mothers began to reciprocate the process, and let him borrow toys from their children.

This past week, a girlfriend and I swapped train sets- both high dollar items.  Their family had Chuggington.  We had Geotrax.  Both families had new toys to play with for the week.  When we swapped the sets back, it was like getting a new toy.  My boys who hadn’t played with the Geotrax in a month, were once assembling trax and making towns.  New toy, not a dollar spent.

It’s also a great way to try out a toy, to see if it worth buying.  I love building toys because they can be played with in multiple ways.  I’ve been looking for a new system to try, and came across a set of geometric shapes that could hook together.  My friend had a set and let us give them a go for a few days.  I saved myself $40 because it turns out my son had zero interest in playing with them.

Another great idea is to have a toy swap.  If you have been to a clothing swap, this is the exact same idea.  You and your friends get together with all the toys your kids have outgrown or don’t play with anymore.  You swap your items.  Everyone leaves with new toys.  Anything not claimed gets donated.

The first swap, the other mothers and I were so worried that the kids would not want to give away their old toys, even though they didn’t play with them.  We needn’t have stressed about it.  As everyone puts out their items, the room filled with toys.  The kids did not care about that old block set they haven’t looked at in ages- they were be too busy laying claim to some new item of fascination.  Of course the more families you have participating, the better the haul.

If you are fortunate, your city might have a formal toy library that loans toys, or a swap and play facility.  A quick google search will have the answer.

Yes, you’re still going to be cursing when you step on some toy or doll that should have been put away- but at least you won’t have to pay for the privilege.

Get Over Your Pinterest Complex- It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Fun!

I remember the first time I went on Pinterest.  I was putting together an alphabet-themed birthday party for my son.  A friend said “I saw the cutest alphabet cake on Pinterest.  I’ll send you a link.”

The cake as indeed adorable- a cake replica of a wooden letter block.  But it was also well, and I mean well, out of my range of skill.  The alphabet party it was grouped with was insane!  Hand sewn goody bags made from alphabet material.  Nameplates for each child crafted out of wooden letters.  Giant letter pinatas that looked nothing like the newspaper/paste monstrosities I was used to crafting.

Pinterest is an awesome place for ideas.  It is also the website moms go to when they want to feel really terrible about the job they are doing.

So often I hear from moms “I’d love to do that, but I’m not really crafty.”  No one was born crafty (well, maybe those gals in the Austin Craft Mafia).  We all learn from someone.  I did not know how to sew until a few years ago.  The woman who taught me was a punk rock pioneer who I imagined had been sewing her own clothes for decades.  In reality, she learned to sew when her daughter needed a costume for school- not so different from other moms I know.

She taught me to sew, but I use the skill VERY infrequently.  I am the type of person who has to read the manual every time I break out my machine.  I have to do a LOT of test strips to adjust the tension before I ever touch an actual project.

Right now, my boys are very into the Wild Kratts computer game on pbskids.org.  I have a tough time with this.  I like that they are learning about animals, and spending time together as brothers, but I don’t like the screen time. (Yes, I sort of want to punch myself when I say things like ‘screen time’.)

One day, my son said “can you make me a bat suit like the Kratt brothers?”  I didn’t want to say no because this was a chance to break away from the computer by capitalizing on his interest.  But I was prepping for an egg-dying party, and really didn’t have time to make a costume.  We compromised on a bat cape.

I had some black material on hand that I had purchased on clearance.  I cut the edges to look bat-ish.  All I had to do was sew some straps on.

I lugged out the machine.  It was already loaded with white thread.  Ok, it won’t match the black but no biggie.  I considered doing a test piece, but just decided to go for it due to the time crunch.  The straps were successful in that they were attached to the fabric.  However, I don’t think you are supposed to have half the spool knotted on the underside.

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You know what?  He did not throw up his arms over the shotty quality of his cape.  He put it on.  He felt like a bat.  Ten minutes later, he decided he’d rather be a cheetah.

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We didn’t pack the bat cape away lovingly, to one day be worn by his little Wild Kratts.  He might not even remember that I made him a bat cape.  But, hopefully I am instilling something in him that says whatever he can dream up, we can figure out a way to make it happen.

You too can be a Pinterest failure- and your kids will love you for it.